Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

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Migra Mouse: Political Cartoons on Immigration


An RDV Books publication.

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Interview with Lalo Alcaraz by Raul Deznermio

The hate mail printed on the back of your book suggests that you have thick skin. Was your skin always so thick, or is this something that has evolved over time?

Yes, my skin has become a thick calloused hide, due to all the fan letters I have received during my 15-year career as a political cartoonist. Occasionally a letter gets to me, but it’s only because deep inside I am a big softy. But there’s nothing better than a funny hate letter written with wit and venom from a frustrated reader. Or a crayon-scrawled rant from a childish illiterate racist.

Many of the cartoons in Migra Mouse employ imagery from television, animated films, books, and other elements of popular culture. Are you interested in popular culture in general or is it something you just feel compelled to respond to in your work?

Pop culture is what most people relate to, so I have to use it to reach out to my audience. Once in a while pop culture directly hits head-on with politics—see my cover cartoon, Migra Mouse, when the Disney corporation supported the racist anti-immigrant campaign of California governor Pete Wilson.

 At what point in your life did your drawings begin to take on political overtones?

At about 16-17, I began to focus my rage onto political targets, but I was only familiar with poster-making and mural-painting as political art forms. Then in college I discovered political cartooning. And journalism . . .

As one of the few Latinos whose work is nationally syndicated, what are the primary obstacles that you see facing Latino artists who would like to reach a broad audience with their work?

There’s definitely a double standard, where Latino artists in any field can be seen as insular if they choose to focus on Latino subjects, but if we don’t, who will? I also can’t control how people perceive Latinos, so no matter how hard I try to show in my work that Latinos are really a diverse group, many mainstream Americans only have TV or music or film as a point of reference for what they know about Latinos. That’s a big pile to drive my points through!

The critique in your cartoons of politicians like George Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pete Wilson and Patrick Buchanan could draw negative attention your way, in much the same way that Aaron McGruder has come under fire. Is this potential confrontation something you fear, or something you look forward to?

Bring it on, I need the face time.

How frequently, if ever, do you cross the border in Mexico at this point in your life? And does your work ever appear in Mexican publications?

Sometimes I go back to San Diego, and cross into Tijuana to get some real Mexican culture, like a velvet Elvis or a ceramic Bart Simpson statue. My work does appear in Mexico sometimes, but they don’t pay. Though if I showed up at the newspaper offices, I bet they’d buy me a load of tacos and cerveza!

Will you vote in the US presidential election in November 2004?

Oh yeah, for ABB! Anyone But Bush!